AND EVOLUTION OF RELIGION
E. Washburn Hopkins, 1923
The Hindu trinity in both forms may be called the Brahmanic in distinction from the Buddhistic trinity, but in reality the earlier form is Hindu and popular rather that priestly (Brahmanic) and orthodox. In both forms it retains the original sun-god, Vishnu, though in the philosophic interpretation this is so much a mere name that any other name meaning the active Supreme Power would do as well, even as, already in the RigVeda, Agni may be called by various names and is actually god of life and of death, creator and destroyer.
The Trimurti or "three form" trinity is, as has been intimated, a later adaptation of Vedic gods of a popular sort to a priestly conception of a creator; primarily it is two thirds phenomenal, one third philosophical. But Vishnu and Shiva, the two chief gods, had long since ceased to be phenomena; they were no more the sun and lightning than Zeus to the Greeks was sky or Thor to the Teutons thunder. Each of the three was a god with a long mythology behind him; stories of personal exploits exalted each; each had his own ardent worshippers. They first began to be grouped together, just as Zeus and his brothers were grouped, because they stood out prominently as superior gods in their several environments, not because they represented in the slightest degree a unified god or trinity. It was a group not even wholly triadic, for other great gods were often made members of the whole group. Negligently triadic, not at all trinitarian, it appears first in the sub-Vedic period of the philosophical tracts called Upanishads. Their authors conceived the idea of One Supreme Spirit and they say of it that it is One and that "this One is called Brahman, Shiva, Indra, Eternal Lord," by way of illustration of what the One is; but a later redaction of this passage- inserts Vishnu (Hari) between Shiva and Indra, thus leading off with the three of the Trimurti, albeit not in their later order, as if an early Christian, seeing the statement that God was Father and Son, had inserted Holy Spirit between the two. In another tract, the All-Soul is depicted as active in the form of the triad, fire, wind, sun, and again in that of Brahman, Rudra [Shiva], and Vishnu. The same tract in the following section' has a hymn to the All-Soul beginning: "Thou art Brahman, Vishnu, Rudra [Shiva], Prajapati, Agni, Varuna, Vayu [wind], Indra, the night-god [Moon]"; and then identifies Brahman with energy, Vishnu with pure being (goodness), and Rudra (Shiva) with darkness or sloth, that is, with the three different constituents of being according to the dualistic philosophy. Similarly, in the Brahma Upanishad, out of a group of more than these three members these three are selected as the most prominent in the declaration that the soul when awake is Brahman; when dreaming, Vishnu; when in profound sleep, Rudra [Shiva] ; as in trance it is the Supreme Power, "the immortal One, who is Sun, Vishnu, Shiva, spirit, soul, Fire.
It is clear from such grouping that the triad is not originally trinitarian and that the triad itself is a more or less fortuitous group of high gods loosely connected in contrast with other ritual groups of three, as they are juxtaposed, for example, in the Brahma Vidya Upanishad with triads of Vedas, of fires, etc. But gradually they became the most outstanding forms of the All-Soul. So in the Dhyanabindu (Up., 11-17), Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva appear thus; parallel to which is the utterance of the Rama-uttara-tapaniya (5) that "Rama is Brahman, Vishnu and the Lord [Shiva]." In the former Yoga Upanishad we find too the important statement, to which we shall have to refer later, that "Vishnu out of his grace' became man" (ibid.). This, too, is the triad intended when in late Smriti literature, as in Vishnu Smriti, 31, 7, it is asserted that the triad of father, mother, and spiritual teacher are as worthy of reverence as "the three Vedas, the three gods, the three worlds, and the three fires." Nevertheless, a triad which casually admits a f ourth member is not yet a trinity and this is the case in the Kaivalya Upanishad (8), where the Supreme Spirit is declared to be "Brahman, Shiva, Indra, Vishnu, the Fire of destruction, and the Moon, and in the Shiva Upanishad Atharvashikha, which derives "Brahman, Vishnu, Rudra, Indra" from the All-Soul Shiva. In the Vishnu tracts, the Supreme Spirit is similarly Vishnu, who then stands at the head of the triad, Vishnu, Shiva, Brahman (Nrisinha-uttara-tapaniya, 9).
Here, in this sectarian interpretation of divinity, we have the key to the Trimurti, which is comparatively modern. It is not recognized before the third or fourth century of our era, when the Trimurti is formally established as three forms of One God. Epic literature gives no hint of such a consummation till its very end and even then what is really celebrated is the duad, Vishnu and Shiva as One God. Brahman comes into the group as a matter of form, because it was impossible for the sectarian worshipper to deny the old orthodox Creator, who had been chief of the pantheon, the old Father of gods and men, since the end of the Vedic age. More-over, the orthodox priests themselves were all more or less sectarian, that is, they lived in an environment of Vishnu-worshippers or of Shiva-worshippers and were not inclined to deny the majesty of the god everybody regarded as paramount, though ritualistically they still saluted Brahman as head-god. Then, too, while each of these gods was complete in himself, each being creator, preserver, and destroyer,4 yet Brahman's special repute was that of creator, Vishnu's that of preserver, and Shiva's that of destroyer, so that it was not difficult to make each into a specialist, so to speak, and consider the three as representative of the three special functions. It was an easy matter to make Shiva hark back to his original lightning-power, Vishnu to his sun-power, which they had never really lost, and say, 'Here you have the god of kindly light, the sun, representing preservation; here, the god of destructive lightning; and here the old Creator.' A compromise was thus effected between the orthodox Brahmanic faith and the two warring sects, who from early times had cried out, "Our god is the god." They united, but with the tacit admission that each sect might continue to hold its own god in greatest esteem. The Shivaite said, "These three are one, but mine is the greatest"; the Vishnuite replied, "These three are one, but mine is the greatest." So a Vishnu-tract says that the three gods are forms of the One God, but the other two were born of or created by Vishnu, and the Shiva-tract says the same only substituting Shiva for Vishnu.5 This attitude still obtains in India and these two are still the popular gods, with many temples, but rare or unique are the temples of Brahman and there is no
4 Traces of the belief in Brahman as exercising all these functions are found in the Mahabharata. See the writer's Epic Mythology, p. 193.
5 To explain the Trimurti by a casual identification of the three gods with the three gunas of Shankhya philosophy, is temerarious. The gunas are fitted to the group already known.
temple6 of the trinity. In short, the "trinitarian" mass worship either Vishnu or Shiva but rarely conjoin them and practically never notice Brahman.
But the formal equation representing godhead under the three aspects of creation, preservation, and destruction, went beyond the original conception of a destruction caused by lightning and extended it to the idea of world-destruction, so that the series represented a cosmic development and the trinity expressed past, present, and future. Yet in truth, so little stress is laid on the trinitarian conception that even in the epic appendix called Harivansha the duad Hari-Harau (Vishnu-Shiva) is the real object of laudation: "These two highest gods are in their nature one" (10672 f.). The sects are still active in India; a rivalry between them still exists; their adherents are marked with different devices. In the Puranas each god is worshipped separately. Each sect still asserts that, though the equation Vishnu== Shiva= One holds good, yet Shiva or Vishnu (as the case may be) is distinctly inferior to the other rival god. No Hindu philosopher has ever taken this trinity seriously and no theologian has discussed it.
In the Shiva manifestation, divinity is androgynous and the "female potency " becomes at times so prominent as to result in the worship of God as mother. This is most pronounced in the later Tantric (Shakta) form of Shivaistic religion (amalgamated with Buddhism), which asserts that the Divine Female Power is superior to all the three gods of the trinity; but it is also common in popular belief. Thus in South India the mother-form of God becomes so important that Ellamma (Mother God) is described as the hen which hatched out the trinity.
6 The three-faced statue in the eaves of Elephanta is said to be a statue of Shiva. But the first doctrine is ekd miZrtis trayo devds (H. 10660), which implies three gods in one body (a triceps?).
This belief, however, is found also among the mystics. Ramkrishna, the teacher of Vivekananda, especially affected the worship of the Mother-Spirit of God. People in sorrow or of a sentimental religiosity are rather inclined to turn to the Mother as more sympathetic, even when she is not a mediating saint or virgin. The Hindu interpretation may be compared with the early Christian interpretation of the Holy Spirit as Mother-power of God.7
It will have been observed that in the Trimurti there is no original interrelation of the members. Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva do not stand to each other in any family relation or in any metaphysical relation. When the triad was first formed there was -no idea of its representing God as past, present, and future; each member represented a special aspect of the One, but only as any other member, incidentally added, might represent an aspect. There was nothing philosophical in the group; it was only a mythological illustration of divine aspects.
The really important trinity of the Hindus is, as every such trinity must be, one not based on local conditions, historical and mythological, but built upon universal truths. Of these there are but three in the world (we may except the crude trinitarianism of the Egyptian Serapis)8 and two of them are so closely connected historically and metaphysically that they might be treated as two presentations of the same system; but as each of the two has its own special background it will make the matter clearer to explain each by itself. Incidentally, it may be remarked
7 The erotic rites of this Hindu mysticism may be illustrated by the parallel eroticism of the Gnostic inater viventiuln (triadic, as father, mother, and son). But in India, it has been observed, the divine female element is more active and stimulating than the male; in China, the male is more active.
8 Serapis as Osiris and Apis, the bull, with the cow-moon, Isis, and child, Horus.
that these two, the Brahmanic and Buddhistic trinities, are both considerably later than the Christian trinity, with which, however, they have no historical connection.9
We have seen, first, that the belief in incarnate divinity reverts to savage notions of beasts which harbor the souls of men or are gods in animal forms temporarily assumed (in distinction from really animal gods). A ghost, demon, or god can assume a human form or can be born in human form. A god can be born thus and yet continue to live in heaven in his true form, according to the mythological lore of Greece and India, and when this happens the human-born representative is recognized as a son of the god or as a "part" of the god. To generalize, a particular person may be especially divine and, conversely, if a man seems to be especially full of power, physical or spiritual, this power is often explained as the result of his divine paternity. Again, we have seen that, as early as the Upanishads, a theistic element working in a pantheistic environment had already tried to explain the active energy of the spiritual power called the All-Soul by the assumption that when the All-Soul would manifest itself it did so in the form of the energetic, creative, spiritual power called the god, or by the special name of a god; that Vishnu and Shiva were the names most popular in connection with this manifestation; and, finally, that Vishnu became so prominent as a name of God that he was regarded as the Supreme Being who by his grace became a man. Thirdly, we have seen that the philosopher demanded as the substratum of the universe a being without parts, known only by negations (that is, indefinable), called Brahma (neuter) but also
9 The Trimurti, of course, is in its formation older than Christianity, as its tentative beginnings revert to the UpaDishad period; but the completed doctrine, the idea of the Three in One, like the name Trimurti, is also later than our era. First, three or more gods are forms of the One.
(to emphasize its spirituality as not mere matter) called All-Soul. This All-Soul or World-Soul is then the Absolute, Brahma, Power.10
It was with such mythological and metaphysical elements that the philosophers operated when they created ,the Brahmanic trinity. As a matter of fact they did not care for the human-divine member and very little for Vishnu or Shiva. They were intent on explaining the origin of the world and satisfied their own religious needs by proving that they themselves were one with Brahma. But at the same time they recognized that ordinary men wished a more substantial god and that countless thousands of their fellow men believed that such a god existed and had become incarnate on earth in the persons of Krishna and Rama.11 They themselves believed after a fashion in a god of this sort, but usually they preferred to call God by the name of Shiva. In that case they ignored Vishnu and his incarnations altogether or gave them only the grudging, somewhat contemptuous recognition which they accorded to idols as "harboring the divine," while they occupied themselves with demonstrating that the world was an illusion or was not an illusion and that "God" was really an illusion or was a projection or form of the Absolute, according to the
10 Such, in the writer Is opinion, was the primary, as it is the etymological, meaning of Brahma, which became in the Vedas a spell of power or charm under the form of prayer. Most modern writers, however, regard Brahma as originally "prayer" and secondarily "power." Deussen, after arguing that it means prayer, translates it regularly with "power," because by the beginning of the philosophical period that was its real meaning. This word as neuter (brahma like Karma and Greek pragma) must be distinguished from Brahman, masculine, the Creator-god, which in turn is (unfortunately) the present English form of BrPhmana, the priest or Brahmin. More unfortunately, many writers use brahman for brahma and Brahmd or Brahmd for the name of the god. In the original, the two words are differentiated by gender and accent.
11 See above, pp. 70, 87.
schools of thought they represented, that of pure idealism or that of "mixed" idealism.
Rama and Krishna, the incarnate forms of Vishnu, were not at first divine through him but in their own right as superhuman men or demigods. They were drawn, however, into the list of avatars or earthly descents of the god, who had also appeared upon earth in animal-guise, as in the fish that saved Mann, the boarform and ape-form, in each case, be it noticed, not because of a whim but because the god in his kindness wished to help or save earth and its creatures, either from physical misfortune or from moral evil. As late as the Bhagavad Gita and the end of the original Ramayana the heroes Krishna and Rama were still independent, not yet forms of the All-Soul or of Vishnu as manifestation of the All-Soul. But a little before the Christian era the popular adulation of these, heroes of antiquity led to their being accepted as human descents (incarnations) of Vishnu, who was, to a multitude of people, the Supreme Spirit. Their faith may be stated thus: There is one Supreme Spirit, maker and preserver and eventual destroyer of this world. He is good and merciful. He pities man's helplessness and when the world goes wrong, physically or morally, this god descends to earth to aid it, being born in an earthly form. Thus, though divine, be lives as a man among men, fighting against evildoers, teaching truth and right, and bringing man back to God, the Supreme Spirit. Whoever believes on him in his human incarnation and in proof of belief follows his law, expressing that belief verbally or by doing what he commanded, shall at death come to him and abide with him in paradise.
This belief is strictly a modified monotheism, polytheistic in form, for it does not deny the existence of a great host of other gods, but still essentially monotheistic. Only one God is of real account. The liberal sectarian believers granted that both Rama and Krishna were true incarnations of Vishnu;12 the narrower sort held that only Rama or only Krishna was the true incarnation, but both agreed that Vishnu was God. Such a creed, when overhauled by the idealist philosophers, who harked back to the All-Soul as an undifferentiated Absolute, appeared in rather a different fashion. Not only did they grant that Rama and Krishna were both forms of Vishnu to all seeming, but they said that Vishnu and Shiva were both equally divine forms of the All-Soul, whose lack of all qualities makes it (as Brahma) indefinable, though it may be explained or postulated as being, intelligence, joy, which is the sum total that can be said of Brahma as All-Soul. This to them was God, namely, the undefinable universal spirit, stripped bare of non-essentials. To them, the idealists, it was a matter of indifference whether one called God by the name of Vishnu or Shiva, for both were only forms of the One; still more a matter of indifference whether one worshipped Vishnu under the form of Krishna or Rama. But these forms were entrenched in the field of popular religion; they served a good purpose in keeping ignorant people virtuous. Besides, Vishnu, however interpreted, was lauded in the Rig-Veda and Shiva was a supreme god in the age immediately following the early Veda; both were revered under the banner of orthodoxy and even to the philosophers orthodoxy was the only right belief. The philosophers tried to be orthodox; every truth they enunciated was carefully bolstered up by appeals to orthodoxy. "Thus saith the holy Veda I I was a better argument than any logic. The effort cost them a great deal; it made them dependent upon tradition and
12 The deification of Krishna has a modern parallel in the outspoken belief that Kabir (c. 1500 A. D.) was an incarnation of God. Theologically, God became Kabir; historically, Kabir became God.
weakened them as world-thinkers, as a modern system of philosophy would be weakened by forcing it to agree with Genesis.
But it had advantages from the dialectic side. For holy tradition contradicted itself so often that one could always find a support for any theory in it. Thus in the great, the burning question whether creation was illusory or real and if real, whether the material world was identical with Brahma or not, there was equal authority for either view in the inspired Vedas and Upanishads (now equal to the Vedas in prestige). So the view of the philosopher Shankara, which did not deny the practical reality of Vishnu and the world but held that the real existence of everything except immanent spirit is illusory, was founded on tradition as well as on logic; while the opposed view of Ramanuja, that the world is not illusive but real and is, as it were, the body of God, was also based on tradition and upheld by logic. Of the human soul, Shankara taught that it is eternal Brahma and is not individual (though it seems to be so), while Ramanuja taught that it is eternal but not identical with the All-Soul. Ramamija proved from revelation that Brahma develops; Shankara, that the development is illusory.
Between these two schools, religion naturally inclined to the one which taught that a real personality rather than an illusory personality underlies what the ordinary man calls God. It required a god real enough to have qualities; it demanded a soul whose individuality was not a farce. Because the founder of this school lived in South India, where the cult of Vishnu was well known (though he did not especially "follow Rama," as his name would indicate), the religious philosophy of his school took Vishnu as the form of the divine (Shankara rather favored Shiva as a name). It is significant that this religious philosophy flourished first as a religion fostered by 14 songs of devotion, I I somewhat as the early Christians sang songs to Christ as God (Pliny) before there was any trinitarian creed. Pious hymns rather than reasoned philosophy expressed religious belief. These hymns were, so to speak, a human answer to the inhuman idea of God which from the ninth to the eleventh century had been accepted as incontrovertible. The poor people did not know what to say to Shankara and his illusive God and illusive soul. They did not say anything. They kept on loving Rama, the man-god, and adoring God, in songs of great spiritual beauty. Then among them rose others of superior intelligence who said, "Our faith can be proved, I I and finally Ramanuja proved it for them." This faith was based on the love of God; its completed system under Ramanuja assumed three eternal principles, the Supreme Lord (God), thinking beings (souls), and the unthinking world (matter). Brahma is all three. In a great Upanishad it is said that the Supreme Lord or controlling Soul lives in all things "and all else is grievous,21 ato 'nyad artam. 14 The antithesis here presented between the material wretched (evil) world of matter and its soul, which is one with the individual soul, is explained thus. The individual soul and the material world are the body of the Supreme Soul. There is one entity, Brahma, consisting in the controlling Supreme Soul abiding in the individual soul and in the material world. Before creation the Supreme, Soul exists in a subtle form and at creation develops as the universe. As efficient is Ramanuja's greatness has overshadowed his predecessors, but there is reason to believe that he was rather the completer than the originator of his religious philosophy. He lived in the eleventh century; the work of Shankara (b. 788) belongs to the ninth. Ramanujals name for God was by preference Vasudeva or Narayana, as title of Vishnu.
14 Brihad Ar. Up., 3, 7, 23. Ramanuja upheld the Pancaratra sect of Vishnuites.
cause, the inner soul of all wills to create but it is also the material cause of the existing world. This Supreme Soul, GodI is the Lord. He is without defects or faults; he pervades all, controls all; he is pure bliss and is possessed of knowledge and power; he is creator and destroyer; he confers blessings, prosperity, religious merit, and salvation. He is truly the Lord of the Celestial City in heaven.
The individual soul, in Shankara's view, cannot be a part of Brahma because Brahma is "without parts." But Ramanuja made the soul a part of God and his successor Madhva went further and made it a different thing from Brahma (this directly opposed inspired authority), while, in Northern India, theology interpreted the soul as a metamorphose of Brahma, and taught that the grace of God was won by approximation to God Is character. It was to these churches, as we may call them, all one, whether a man preferred to love Rama or love Krishna, but the cult of Rama led to a rather cleaner spiritual mysticism than did that of Krishna, whose devotees were apt to lose themselves in erotic mysticism, practiced under the name of "loving faith," bhakti, which some eminent scholars think has been influenced by Christian "love" of God. Be that as it may, there was a steady set of the religious tide toward a practically monotheistic interpretation of the world, for, though nominally pantheistic, the whole weight of the religion lay in stressing the personality of God, the Creator, the (not illusive) soul of man dependent on this God, and the identity of God with the All-Soul or Absolute. Man's soul is selfillumined, blissful, immortal, subject to God's control, dependent for existence on God; it shares with God selfconsciousness, knowledge, the union of soul and body (epitome of All-Soul and world), and agency." One must yield all to God, having faith that he will protect and save and praying to him to save. Surrender to God, prapatti, is the keynote of the religious life. There are two divergent later schools, based on the relation between God's grace and man's effort in effecting salvation.
According to the Northern school (the term is relative, both schools being in South India), the initiative comes from the worshipper, as a young monkey, to be saved, seizes its mother round the neck; according to the Southern school, the initiative comes from God, as a cat, to save its kit, seizes it in her mouth, the kit making no effort. Self-surrender, according to the cat-doctrine, is necessary; according to the monkey-doctrine, it is a means of salvation emploved only by those intellectually incapable of employing other means. Perhaps it is not without connection with this distinction that only the school holding -the cat-doctrine admits low-caste men to equal treatment with their social superiors and that it has adopted the unethical view that viciousness is dear to God because it offers him more field for exercising his grace and love (doshabhogya). According to the Krishna-worship of the North I in the theology of Caitanya, Krishna as God appears in the forms intelligence, consciousness, love, and joy (or sportiveness), which are personified as holy beings. Love here replaces the mind and sportiveness replaces the Selfconsciousness of the older system of Ramanuja, in which these are derivatives of the Supreme Lord."
The religion, as a whole, though nominally pantheistic, is not only monotheistic but trinitarian. Its creed is that God is immanent, but, as self-conscious, the spirit of God is a personal Holy Spirit; in this form God became incarnate on earth, to deliver man from sin; and, since in him the Holy Spirit was made flesh, worship and love are due to him, the god-man, even as to God.
16 Compare Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Minor Beligious Systems, pp. 52 ff., and, for the Vedanta, Paul Deussen, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (1907).
The later parallel in the mysticism of this "love of God" to the mystical eroticism of Christian saints has already been animadverted upon. But it need not be overemphasized. In fact, for pure love of God, sweetness, nobility, humility, for charndng examples of the ecstatic vision, one may turn to the saints ofJndia, both Shivaite and Vishnuite, as they have mourned and rejoiced in this plastic religion, where often only one member of the trinity is thought of by the worshipper. But, be his cry Hari or Rama, be his supplication made to Shiva or to Vishnu or to Vishnu's incarnate representative, it is always with the conviction that God is One, though naturally enough the saint and the philosopher see from different angles, and with the former God as the Absolute is not so prominent as is God the Ruler, the Creator. Thus practically the humble worshipper is apt to come back to the theism with which his religious system began, a belief in God and his incarnate divine representative on earth. Nevertheless, he has by tradition an elaborate theological system and, if interrogated, will explain that, before becoming the active Spirit, who is really one with God, God as All-Soul is immanent in the universe, as he is in the human soul; that the world is to God as man's body is to his soul. The pure Shivaite also sees in Shiva the one who is both God and godhead, but his religion goes back to a system which regards God as distinct from the world which he creates and religiously he is inclined to be a dualist rather than a monist, while he recognizes no avatars of God.
The relation between the popular and the philosophic trinity is simple. The Trimurti represents three stages or manifestations of the One, as a creative, preservative, and destructive divine Power, that is, as the active God, in distinction from the Absolute (godhead) of the philosopher; but since this Power, despite its active consciousness, is also the universe, it is at once God and godhead.
[ It is perhaps indicative of Christian influence that Ramanuja's successor, Madhva, founded in the thirteenth century a theistic church which not only maintained that God was not one with the soul of man and the world, but established a trinity of Vishnu, Lakshmi (the female potency), and their divine son, Vayu, the Holy Spirit (vdyu is etymologically connected with Latin ventus), incarnate in Madhva. In the Shiva cult of South India a similar divine son-god is Narayana (Ayenar), son of Shiva as father and of Vishnu as mother (Vishnu in female manifestation), though originally Narayana was an independent quasi monotheistic god, who has thus been subordinated to the two great figures of the Trimurti through adoption as their son. Usually the feminizing of male divinities is rather a Buddhistic than Brahmanic trait (compare "Mother Buddha," Kuannon, etc.), and the androgynous spirit is more apt to be Shiva than Vishnu.]
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